Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Final Round

Every epic battle has to eventually come to an end. And sometimes, just sometimes, the way the battle is fought is a whole lot more important than who won or lost. Meg’s battle finally came to an end October 6th, and she put up one hell of a courageous fight.

Monday morning Meg began to experience some breathing distress while I was holding her in my arms. I laid her on the bed and called 911. Paramedics and fire firefighters arrived and rushed her to the hospital. Nothing would be the same again.

Earlier that night Meg and I were sitting next to each other in the couch. Meg leaned over and placed her forehead against mine. She wrapped her arms around my neck, looked straight into my eyes, and said, “I love you so much.” I pulled her in tighter and told her, “I love you more than anything.” We just sat there and sucked up the moment. Meg and I had so many moments like this. Little did we know this was going to be the last one. Knowing now how events were going to play out, I am so thankful for this moment. It has been a spot of comfort and refuge in a sea of chaos and heartbreak.

After my parents arrived at our house to take care of the girls, I rushed to the hospital emergency room and met Meg’s parents. Shortly after arriving we were able to see Meg. Nothing quite prepared me for what I saw. Meg was on a ventilator, very jaundiced, and non-responsive. At the time, that was the single scariest moment of my life only to be outdone by the series of events that followed.

We never left Meg’s side, holding her hand, rubbing her head, and telling her how much we loved her. A bit later we were asked to leave so the doctors could place a central line to more effectively monitor Meg’s condition and deliver medications. A while after the doctor came to inform us that he was unable to complete the procedure due to some complications. He said they would try again on the femoral artery after Meg was moved to the ICU. But before he left he confided in us that Meg’s situation was very grave. He did not expect Meg to live through the day.

The ICU team that cared for Meg was no less than amazing. They were professional yet caring and compassionate. They did everything in their power to help Meg turn that corner to recovery, but Meg’s poor body had just had enough. Her condition continued to deteriorate. We reached a moment, where despite all efforts, Meg’s blood pressure and heart rate steadily declined. We had reached a point of no return. Following Meg’s wishes and desires, I had the doctors remove the ventilator. Surrounded by family and friends pouring forth love in a manner that I hardly imagined possible, Meg’s heart beat its last beat. With her hand in mine and a last whisper of, “I love you more than anything,” Meg passed away.

How do I even begin to describe Meg’s life? It was unconditional love and happiness. Joy and hope. Inspiration and friendship. She wowed me everyday. I still don’t know how she was able to everything she did. She was an amazing Mother! She was an amazing wife! She was an amazing friend! She was able to see people as they were and accept them as just that, but it went beyond that. She was able to inspire people to be better versions of themselves. She made me a better me. Ellie would squeal, “Momma!” whenever Meg came home or picked her up. Cora’s face just lit up with the biggest smile when she saw Meg. She made the world a far better place by having just been in it.

The outpouring of love and support and family and friends is exactly what the girls and I need right now. Even though I’m not lonely there is a hole in the middle of chest that appeared the moment she was gone.

Ellie misses her Mommy so much. When I got home from the hospital I took Ellie upstairs to have a talk. We sat down and she asked, “Where’s Momma?”

“That’s what we have to talk about little girl. Mommy was really, really sick. So sick she had to go to the hospital. The doctors tried really hard to make Momma feel better, but she was just too sick. Mommy died little girl.”

“But when’s she coming home Daddy?”

“I’m sorry little girl. Mommy’s not coming home.”

“Ohhh. I miss mommy.”

“I miss Mommy too little girl. When we miss Mommy we have to remember that Mommy will always be in our hearts. So when we get sad or we really miss Mommy we just have to close our eyes really tight and remember all the good, happy things we did with Mommy.”

“Mommy’s in our hearts?”

“Yes she is! What are some things you remember about Mommy little girl?”

“Mommy paints with me, she made mac ‘n cheese with me, we went to the zoo. . .”

That’s how Ellie found out, and everyday, sometimes several times a day, she asks to hear what happened and we remember all the good things about Mommy.

Meg, I love you! Meg, I miss you!

I think I’m going to leave this blog post right where it’s at for now because I’m starting to ramble. Phyllis, Meg’s mom, wanted to leave some great words and thoughts on this page, so I’ll end it with her tribute:

When Meg was born two people became a family. Our whole lives changed. She made us look at life from a whole new perspective and appreciation.  She brought such joy.

Meg had attitude. From her first word, cookie, she knew what she wanted. Everyone in grade school knew Meg. I used to hear "you're Meg's mom" from teachers 4-5 years ahead of Meg's.  In junior high school, Meg did it all. Cheerleader, softball, track, basketball, volleyball, handbells, tutoring and student body president -and still brought home amazing grades. When Meg started high school, she didn't know a soul. That didn't keep her from jumping in with both feet. She called me halfway thru orientation day to let me know that she was still at school - she was helping the leadership team.  She continued in that leadership role for the rest of her life. A summer in the Dominican Republic teaching teen girls how to run their own small Bible groups. AVID coordinator at Serrano Middle School and most recently AVID coordinator for the district. Meg was someone you could always look up to. Her talents were many. She was an amazing cookie baker (remember her first word - should have known) a talented crapbooker, a great sales person and an amazing support giver.

After Meg's first date with Sam she told me "this one's different". Little did we know then that she had found the love of her life. At 26 Meg and Sam embarked on their own life together. Meg was immediately embraced as part of the Sager/Tidswell clan. She loved having a house full of people at Thanksgiving - even if the house wasn't always hers. Then at 29 they started their own family. Ellie was the joy of her life. Her little sweet pea. She and Sam always shared Ellie's firsts with us. Her first trip to Disneyland her first time at Vince's Spaghetti her first trip to the aquarium. Then along came pregnancy number two and we were all over the moon with joy and excitement.

Meg loved to travel. Hawaii, Australia, Europe, the DR, Alaska, Fiji just to name a few. She loved musicals. In short, Meg loved life. Meg loved her life. That was why Meg threw herself into the battle with breast cancer with everything she had. She fought for herself, she fought for Sam and Ellie and for Cora born halfway through her chemo treatments. Despite Meg's fight and an army of supporters around the world, Meg lost that battle years sooner than expected. A big loss for her friends and a devastating loss for her family.

Just a look at postings on Facebook and a look around at the number of people here to celebrate Meg shows just how many lives she touched. Meg will continue to touch us all through our memories of her and the two beautiful girls she fought so hard to stay with.

Sam, look around at all the people who share a small part of your loss and know that the army that stood with Meg in her battle now stand behind you.

As we said at Meg and Sam's wedding, it takes a village to raise a child.  It also can be said that it takes a village to build a family - indeed to build a life like Meg's.  Thank you one and all for being part of Meg's village. While we mourn our loss and try to fill the hole left in our lives know that her spirit has been set free and she now soars with the angels.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Long overdue post

So on Thursday 9/25, I went in for my blood work as a follow-up/ pre-appointment for my first round of the new chemo. This was to see my liver and blood count before starting round 2. When they took my vitals my 02 was super low, I was having trouble breathing and I had a fever of 100.3, so my oncologist sent me to the ER. I was admitted immediately and the tests began. I had a chest x-ray, two leg ultra-sounds to check for blood clots, an ultra sound on my liver again to look for any fluids. I then had a CT scan to look at my liver and abdominal area. They drew several vials of blood to look for infection and to check my liver levels. I was placed on oxygen to help me breathe.
Waiting in the ER for a bed
My liver levels were raised, my WBC and others were super low indicating infection, I was immediately given antibiotics through an IV and a blood transfusion was ordered. Basically,  over the following five days, I had x-rays, ultrasounds, a total of 4 blood transfusions, various different antibiotics and whatever possible to bring my liver levels down and blood levels up

I had a pureed food diet, just like Cora. 
Finally, on Monday, the Drs decided my infection had cleared and that I could go home on oxygen. After they told us that, it took about 5 hours for us to actually be discharged and get home. 

We know that everyone is very eager to help us and our family right now, but currently, I am just trying to gain my strength back, we are trying to keep everyone germ free and are doing our best to keep things normal for Ellie and Cora. Currently the freezer is full of meals and as we see a need for more we will set up a meal train so people can help. 
Thank you for all your support!

Meg, Sam, Ellie and Cora.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

It's back

So mid-August, I started feeling a little off, almost like I had a UTI, and I made an appointment with my primary care physician. I saw Dr. Taylor on the 15th of August and she ran a urine test which came back inconclusive, so she ran a more specific one that was also inconclusive, and then ran a culture to rule out any infection.
By Sunday, the 17th, I was feeling worse so I went into Urgent Care where they ran an array of blood work and ordered an x-ray. The blood work showed elevated liver counts (ALT and AST) and the x-ray showed that I was slightly constipated. They also ruled out gallstones, kidney stones and any type of infection.
I had my regularly scheduled follow-up CT scan on 8/20 and a regularly scheduled appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Miller on the 25th.
The CT scan showed that there were more lesions on my liver and that my liver was enlarged. This enlargement is what is causing the pressure and discomfort in my abdomen.
At my appointment on the 25th, Dr. Miller ordered another liver biopsy to see if the lesions were cancerous, Dr. Miller gave me a prescription of Norco to help with the pain.
By the evening of the 26th, I was in such severe pain (even on Norco), I had Sam take me to the ER. There they put me on morphine. which took the edge off the pain (didn't get rid of it), so they gave me dilaudid which helped the pain go away. They performed an ultra-sound that showed the same thing as the CT scan and sent me home with a prescription for extended release morphine.
The morphine pretty much wiped me out completely for a week and caused my constipation to worsen, which did not help the abdominal pressure at all.
On September 3rd, I had my liver biopsy where they took four samples this time around. I have a severe bruise in the spot.
On the 5th in the afternoon, Dr. Miller called me to inform me that indeed my cancer is back. This means that I have stage IV Breast Cancer. This is not a new cancer but the return of the breast cancer to my liver. Chances are that the last time when my biopsies came back negative it was because the chemo I was on had stopped the growth, once off the chemo, the lesions were able to continue growing hence why it seemed to recur so quickly (3 months)
When I saw Dr. Miller on the 8th he started me on an oral chemo, Xeloda, which I began taking last night. This will involve me taking 4 pills with a meal in the morning and 4 pills with a meal in the evening. With recurrence, they will try to be more direct and try one chemo at a time since with the liver there will be no getting rid of the cancer completely, just shrinking and prolonging life. As of right now my prognosis is 2-3 years.
At Monday's appointment Dr. Miller also ordered an ultrasound guided drain of fluid and referred me to palliative care.
Today (Tuesday 9/9) I had my ultrasound appointment, unfortunately it found that there were no significant pockets of fluid to drain, but I did see that my liver is taking up over half of my insides (which explains why I look 5-6 months pregnant.
Tomorrow (Wednesday 9/10) I will have my appointment with palliative care. Their focus will be to help me manage my pain and the other side effects with the hope of making me more comfortable.
I know this is a lot of information, which is why it has taken me a while to update. I've had lots of great texts and e-mails from you I'm not ignoring you, but it is a little overwhelming trying to keep up especially when I am trying to stay awake to spend time with Ellie and Cora which is difficult given my discomfort level. I will be trying to keep my blog updated as much as possible. Thanks again for all the offers of help and support.

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Whys

So the question of Why has come up a lot this summer, primarily at the two conferences I went to. What we really want to know from people is why they do what they do not necessarily what they do. We as humans feed off of the enthusiasm and passion that others show for things. So here are some of the Why questions I have been asked this summer.

Why are you not having follow-up treatment?
Remember way back when I was diagnosed in November, and I mentioned that I have (had) Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Yeah, well that means that my cancer does not respond to hormones. Sounds good right, it means the hormones aren't feeding it...well it is actually not good because the hormones aren't feeding it. It means they don't know exactly what makes the cancer grow so quickly so there is no follow up treatment after radiation. Hormone positive cancer patient get hormone suppressors after active treatment to greatly decrease chances of recurrence. No such luck for me and about 12% of all other breast cancer patients with a TNBC diagnosis.

You have shared so much why no pictures of your mastectomy scar?
You know those headlines you see "Teacher posts pornographic pictures on her blog"? I don't want to be that teacher. "Say WHAATTT?!?!" You may exclaim. Yep I've had several BC (breast cancer) friends who have had pictures of their mastectomy scars removed from Facebook for being "pornographic." So I've decided that I am not going to go there. It is not worth my job just so you can see my scar. (Which happens to be really clean and healing really, really well!) If your curious just do a google image search mine is like the horizontal ones.

Why don't you wear a wig?/ Why do you wear a hat?
Wigs are hot, tight, and just plain uncomfortable. If you hadn't noticed, I'm kinda comfortable with who I am and easily go out in public with no hair. (Though now it is growing really well!) With that said, hair, it turns out is really functional and keeps your head warm. Since I now sit in an air conditioned office all day with only about 10 other people as opposed to 30+ Middle School students, my head gets cold. Hats, specifically the few fedoras I have right now, keep my head warm without overheating it.

Why do you wear that thing on your arm?
OK so no one has flat out asked it that way. It is usually asked as "Is your arm OK?", "What did you do to your arm?", or my favorite when people see my sleeve on "oh, let me get that for you." So, remember when I had surgery and they took out my tumor and a bunch of lymph nodes? According to the American Cancer Society "Lymph nodes are small structures that work as filters for harmful substances. They contain immune cells that can help fight infection by attacking and destroying germs that are carried in through the lymph fluid." This means in this hot, humid weather we have been having in Southern California, that my left arm swells a little because it is missing 18 of those filters (most of us have 20-30) So my general rule of thumb is if I have trouble putting my wedding ring on, I put my compression sleeve on. My arm doesn't hurt, I can use my arm like normal, and the compression sleeve helps the fluid not build up as much in my arm.

Why did you move to the District Office instead of staying in the classroom this year? 
Well primarily because I know have my Dream Job!!! This is the job I have been wanting for about 3 years. It just took that long for it to open up for me to apply for. After several days in the summer training teachers, helping out teams of teachers at the AVID Summer Institute in San Diego and one week in the office, I LOVE IT!!! It is way different in comparison to being a classroom teacher. I am currently working on clarifying our district's AVID Contract, hiring tutors for the six middle schools and scheduling times to visit all 12 of my AVID sites, I've been super busy. Plus I get to work with an amazing team of other teachers who have been identified as leaders in their subject area and together we support all 32 schools in the Ontario Montclair School District.

Why are you so passionate about the AVID program? 
So this one is easy for me. In my family it was never if you go to college but when you go to college. For many of my students it is barely and if. Many of my middle school students have great hopes and dreams of becoming lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, pilots, etc. but they have no idea what they need to do to accomplish such dreams. There is no family member who can tell them that there are certain classes that they need to take in high school to reach that goal, many of their parents never made it to high school. AVID helps students navigate the world of education that is often unseen. The note talking, the interaction with teachers and other students. AVID focuses on WICOR (Writing, Inquiry,  Collaboration, Organization, Reading), AVID teaches that college is a very real possibility for students that traditionally aren't seen as "college bound" they aren't straight A students, they aren't in need of remediation, they just kinda hang in the middle just needing a little extra push to reach their full potential.

Why didn't you stop selling bags while you were sick?
Ummm, have you seen how cute the Thirty-One bags are? The company really does meet its mission to Celebrate, Encourage and Reward women. Why would I ever give that up unless I had to?
Another question that usually goes with this is I thought you sold... So I am not only obsessed with Thirty-One but I also really like Origami Owl jewelry, Jamberry Nails, and Pampered Chef kitchen products so I usually have a home party as a hostess for my friends who are consultants for those companies because by hosting a party I can often get a bunch of the stuff I want for free in rewards :) I will gladly sell you a bag any time, but for the other things I will pass on the information of my friends who sell what you are looking for.

The last question I am constantly asked is 
Why share your story?
Again I am not a shy person. Sharing my story has helped me bring awareness to cancer and all that goes with it. It has also been a bit therapeutic for me to put my thoughts down. One day when Ellie and Cora are older I will want to tell them what I went through, but realistically I will not remember everything so typing it out will help with that. Lastly, I really want to demystify as much about cancer as I can. After almost every Dr. appointment I would come home and search about a million things and ask a ton of questions to the on-line group of moms also diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy. I know there are women out there who don't want to tell their families that they have cancer, if I can help just one of them, it will all be worth it.

I leave you with a few things
1- Another huge thank you to EVERYONE who has dropped me a note, left me a message, thought of me during treatment, etc. Not once during this journey have I felt alone or like I had no one I could call, or no shoulder I could cry on. I also never felt that I needed to put on a happy face for any of you. Knowing I could be real and be myself made it so much easier to stay positive and not get stuck in the "why me" mode
2- Here are my adorable girls :)
Cora trying to feed herself Sweet Potatoes

Ellie adores her sister and wants to hold her ALL the time!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Warning ~ this is one of my longer blog posts ~ sorry-not sorry~ I've been busy

So the healing process has been underway for some time but in the last few weeks it has become more visible.
My hair is coming back to the point were I now have bedhead when I wake up. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful my hair is coming back but really, what would you do with half an inch of hair that won't cooperate. There is no product that works with such short hair, so I now have several fedoras that I wear to help the situation. I also have more hair than Cora now!!
Photo cred- Ellie Sager

In terms of my skin healing I have a ways to go. It got really bad, then much better, it looks really good now but, it is still pealing and feels leathery (and looks like I tried to iron myself). I was super thankful through this process that I still have no feeling under my arm as that is where the burn looked the worst.

Radiaiton burn 3 weeks after end of treatment

I saw my plastic surgeon (yep, I have one of those now too) and we are hoping for right mastectomy/reconstruction next summer. The reconstruction option I am going with is called DIEP flap reconstruction.  And while I joke that it means I get the "mommy make-over" for "free" It is so much more than that. Here is a brief article that highlights the differences Breast Reconstruction Isn't a Boob Job. I'm not exactly known for holding back on this blog so why start now, right?  The DIEP flap reconstruction will involve one plastic surgeon and two micro surgeons working for twelve hours on removing my right breast (tissue and skin) then removing skin and tissue (fat) from my mid-section to transfer to my chest in order to fashion new breasts which will also include them connection blood vessel to blood vessel (hence the need for two micro-surgeons). My recovery will involve 4-5 days in the ICU so the nurses can monitor me, my healing and so I can be in a temperature controlled room 24/7 (I've been told it will be about 80 degrees). After that I will have a 6-8 week recovery time during which I will have weight lifting restrictions (meaning no lifting Cora) I will also have normal looking boons to you but to Sam and I they will look like they belong on the female version Frankenstein- no nipples and lots of scarring. I have not yet decided if I will get nipple tattoos, decorative tattoos or just leave them be. So again, while I joke about my "mommy make-over" it is really far from the truth.  And yes it is all free if you consider the $1200 a month premium (above and beyond what our employer covers), recovery from two major surgeries, 6 rounds of chemo and 25 rounds of radiation isn't payment.

I started my new job last week and am working a few days this week before going back full swing next Monday. I LOVE it!!! I get to work with amazing people and I get to support teachers in my district in an area I am super passionate about! This has been my dream job for the past few years and it couldn't have opened up at a better time. This job will allow me some flexibility in hours so I can make all my Dr. appts without having to take time off or find another teacher to cover my classes.
First of 5 days of presentations to the fabulous teachers of OMSD
For my other job, Thirty-One bags, I'm back in the game!  I definitely made my business take a back seat during active treatment, but I am so ready to get back into it. This company is amazing!! This year I was able to earn my conference registration for free so Sam and I decided that we would go and make a little family vacay out of it. We left Cora behind with Nana and Grandpa and Ellie, Sam and I headed to Colorado. For three days I got to hang out and learn from the most amazing women. I learned how to grow my business and use my time more wisely. If you want to shop or want more info on this wonderful company check it out on My Site. (shameless plug)  The conference really helped me feel more confident in getting back to business and every so thankful that I my business on the back burner instead of just letting it go.
Leigh Anne Tuohy- played by Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

I got to stuff bags for women in shelters all over the world for World Vision

The AMAZING ladies I got to hang out with from all over (primarily CA and TX) 
After the conference, we spent a few more days checking out museums and the zoo before heading home. Ellie had a fabulous time and LOVES riding on a plane.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What is Radiation?

A lot of people have asked my what exactly radiation therapy is and what it involves. So I thought I'd explain.
First, not all cancer patients receive radiation therapy. It all depends on the type, stage and location of your cancer. I received radiation because of my Triple Negative Diagnosis. Other types of breast cancer have targeted treatments to suppress hormones after chemotherapy and surgery are done. Triple Negative Brest Cancer (TNBC) does not yet have that treatment so many TNBC patients get radiation.

The way it has been explained to me was the surgery gets the tumor, the chemo gets the cancer clumps and the radiation gets the stray cells. There are also different types of radiation.  My type of treatment was external x-ray which felt just like it sounds. It was like getting a really long x-ray each day. I was "zapped" at three different angles for about 20-30 seconds each day. However, after 25 days of repeated exposure to radiation, my skin started to burn.
Two days after end of radiation.
Yes, it hurts but the Silvadene (silver sulfadiazine) helps sooth the burn and it will prevent infection. It is like any major burn, it will blister, peel and I will most likely have a permanent discoloration on the spot.
In comparison to chemo it is not as bad, for me. Depending on the area though it can be worse for others. The chemo completely wiped me out, made me weak, gave me mouth sores, etc. The radiation has given me the burn and made me a little more tired but I can easily carry on with life.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Radiation Complete!!

Today I finished #25 of my radiation treatments which was also my final one!! My skin is really angry with me as evidenced in this picture:
It looks like I tried to iron my clothes while they were on my body. Tomorrow I meet with my surgeon to discuss my right mastectomy and if I will have it with reconstruction or separately.

Last week we spent the week at a house right on the beach in Newport. I discovered that I can't hack it as a commuter even though it only took about 45 minutes to get from Newport to Ontario since I was going against traffic. Ellie loved the sand and the water and it was difficult to get her out and back to the house to eat or nap.

Cora is growing like a weed and has rolled over from stomach to back several times and back to stomach once. She will be four months old tomorrow.